Quick Tip

Three Steps to Take When Your Kid Says, “I Don’t Know”

I don't know

Blank Stares

As parents, it can be difficult to effectively engage our kids in the process making decisions for themselves. Sometimes our lives get busy and we don’t take the time to ask our kids, “What do you think?” or “What do you want to do?” And sometimes, when we do, all we get back is blank stares.

If you’re anything like me, it’s frustrating to constantly hear:

"I don't know"

But I’ve come to learn that there are many reasons our kids might respond that way, like:

  • They are too distracted (by emotion or activities) to engage in what we are asking them at the moment.
  • They think we already know what we want, so believing their opinion doesn’t really matter.
  • They need more time to process and figure out what they want.

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Cracking The Code

Of course, there are many other considerations, but these are a good reminder that “I don’t know” is more than likely code for something else. So the next time it happens, instead of just getting frustrated, or making a decision yourself, here are three steps you can take that will likely have more success:

  • Respond by saying, “That’s okay, would you think about it a minute?” and then give them a minute to think.

Still no answer?

  • Let them have some space and time to process. Give them a specific challenge, a vote of confidence, and a commitment to follow up: “Take a while to figure it out. We can talk again at dinner. I bet you’ll have a few ideas by then.”

Still no answer?

  • Offer to brainstorm with them, alternate ideas, or ask them questions. You can even make it fun by coming up with crazy options in addition to real ones. “We could fly to the moon … Flying monkeys could deliver a telegram with an answer. What would it say?”

In the end, you can set your children up for success by involving them in the process of making decisions. You may even have some fun on the way.

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